Mention The Hills or The City in front of most, and you’ll get a response along the lines of “Oh that’s so scripted”. I’m willing to admit that I have seen every episode of both of these series, and yes, the show is obviously at the very least staged. But I really don’t care, and I’m a little surprised that so many others seem to.
Whether real people with real loves and careers or characters dreamt up by producers, Lauren, Heidi, Spencer, Audrina and Whitney will always be whimsical figures to me that exist in a world outside of my own reality. I didn’t grow up in an environment that even remotely resembles the Southern California coast, and even after attending this chic urban university for two years, I still haven’t had any close encounters with any fashionistas that could rival those featured on television. From episode one of Laguna Beach, the MTV docudramas broadcasted worlds that I would never be able to fully relate to and that would always have an element of fantasy. I suppose that maybe some in a similar position to mine tuned in to examine how the other half lived, however knowing MTV’s target audience, my guess is a big chunk viewers just wanted some easy entertainment. That certainly was my motive.
So what do I care if it’s not totally real? It was never totally real to me, and in general, I’m not watching television to get a sense of reality, in fact I’m usually doing just the opposite. For that hour that my tv is on, I’m convinced that Dr. House trying to cure an ailing dictator, that Nancy Botwin has moved in with a corrupt Mexican mayor/drug lord and that Locke has discovered a mysterious hatch on a deserted island. For the half hour that I’m watching The Hills, I also believe that Lauren attends FIDM, that Heidi and Spencer almost got married in a court house and that Audrina actually has a job.
It is also worth noting that no “reality” tv show is perfectly true to reality. As an intern working on MTV shows such as True Life and DJ AM’s Gone Too Far – both shows that are relatively true to “real” life – I saw firsthand that producers are always after a story that can be told concisely in a pretty strict time frame. They are constantly redoing host interviews, voice overs, and asking very guiding questions. Participants are asked to rearrange their daily schedules and important events based on camera crew availability. Misleading editing is also an obvious tool that is often used. To accept anything broadcast on television as pure reality is simply a naïve mistake.
Also, as both The Hills and The City are shot in styles that are more similar to scripted television than to documentary or reality television (very steady camerawork, even outdoor scenes are well lit with extraneous noises kept to a minimum, no host or confessional interviews, etc.), I am inclined to watch it in the same manner as I would a scripted series. In fact, I remember when watching the first episode of Laguna Beach in 2004, the aesthetics alone caused me to take a few minutes to figure out whether or not it was a fictional show. The rather vapid dialogue kind of gave it away, but it still has always seemed to be never too serious about portraying “reality”. So when people tell me it’s scripted, they’re really just telling me something that on some level I have known from the start.
Tags: The Hills